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An American Encounter, Part Four
by Skihee

AE4 Ch 3 Auld Acquaintance

 

Sitting way at the back of the Navy Tavern dining area, the tavern just outside the dockyard gates, the place he and Dix dined, where he, Pellew, Kennedy, Edrington, and Sebastian ate last December, where he and his father took a meal so many years ago, Hornblower pored over current and past issues of the Naval Gazette that Lt. Dix loaned him. He was getting an idea of what had gone on while he was indisposed. There was the news about Indefatigable, Pellew's assignment to L'Impeteuex, Nelson's engagement in HMS Foudroyant along with HMS Northumberland against French Généreux off Malta, concerns for the West Indies where French and Spanish interests were causing trouble for the British, and a number of accounts of other captains, commodores, and assorted admirals in every theatre of war around the globe. One about a leftenant he found most interesting.

 

"Lieutenant Archibald Kennedy has assumed temporary command of despatch vessel Sloop Cynthia while her commander, Lieutenant James Hayward recuperates from injuries received during a chase off Ushant. The sloop was pursued by two French corvettes. However, the hand of Providence delivered the crew from the jaws of her pursuers. Kennedy, in Cynthia, joins the Channel Fleet from HMS Indefatigable."

 

Hornblower lowered the paper and thought, **So. Kennedy's command is a temporary situation.** His mouth twisted as he considered the possibility of running into his old comrade in arms. **I'm not ready. I'm just not ready for dealing with Archie,... if ever I will be,** he told himself. **I must get a posting.**

"Ere's your meal, sir, shepherd's pie," said the waiter.

Hornblower recognized him from last December when he was here with Pellew and the others. He quickly moved the papers. Not for the world would he allow harm to come to the periodicals loaned by Lt. Dix.

"Thank you."

As he ate, Hornblower watched the tavern fill with the midday meal crowd. The waiter, Joseph, knew many of the officers entering the public house by name. Hornblower had avoided giving the man his so far, though Joseph had cagily tried to learn it. Hornblower merely desired the good food and a pleasant atmosphere, not a confidant. He changed the subject handily that day and was pleased with himself that he had outwitted the waiter.

Hornblower was nearly finished with the lunch time repast when he heard Joseph greet a newcomer and Hornblower nearly choked on his beer.

"Mr. Kennedy! Welcome back, sir. Always good to see a protégé of the bard back in port."

Hornblower picked up one of the gazettes and opened it wide to hide behind, sinking into the seat.

"Joseph!" grinned Archie. "I think it is my custom not my recitations that you find pleasing."

"You wound me to the quick, sir. Just because I know ye to be not only a talented man but a generous one? And a fine seaman, too."

"Ha ha ha! Flattery, Joseph? Shame on you!"

"Oy, it's God's own truth, I hear, sir."

"Well, do not believe everything you hear. Mr. Christopher and I need a table for two, if you please."

Hornblower could hear them clearly above the low din of midday customers. **Do not bring them back here!** he thought madly.

"How's the Cynthia, sir?" asked Joseph over his shoulder as he led them towards the back of the tavern.

"Her rigging has seen better days. The dockyard crews have her for the moment," answered Kennedy.

"Aye. Salt and sun does their work to be sure, sir. Good to have you back. The special, sir?"

"Yes, Joseph, and two pints of bitter?" questioned Archie of his companion, who nodded his assent.

The three men passed behind the short wall to the seating area where they all had sat with Pellew months ago.

Hornblower dug into his pocket and pulled out a shilling. Placing it on the table, he was about to rise when Kennedy emerged from behind the wall. Hornblower sat quickly, bent double, and pretended to look for something on the floor. Turning his head, he could see Kennedy from beneath the table and watched Archie scoop a ladle of soup into a bowl. **You look well, my friend. Command agrees with you. I knew it would.** Two approaching legs blocked his view. It was Joseph coming with a pitcher of beer.

"Lose something, sir?" questioned Joseph. "Can I freshen your glass, sir?"

Hornblower rose slowly and shook his head negatively, then maneuvered and ducked to use Joseph as a block.

Seeing the coin on the table, Joseph said, "I'll fetch your change straight away, sir."

"Keep it," whispered Hornblower as he gathered the papers and his hat and strode down the hallway leading to the door he exited those months ago, pondering how he might sail to Gibraltar. How he wished he had acted on that desire now, but he would think no more on it. He could not change the past.

Joseph watched Hornblower go, his mouth agape. The coin would have paid for the lunch several times over. Cocking his head and tossing the coin, Joseph said, "Thank you, sir."

As Joseph passed Kennedy, he grinned and flipped the shilling. "Must be my lucky day, sir!"

Once outside in the back alley, Hornblower breathed a sigh of relief. How long would it be before Kennedy might meet Starns and learn he was alive? What were the chances that Kennedy would inquire in the Admiralty offices for his whereabouts?

Long legs brought him even with the tavern front and the street. He looked over the water to the ships and ships' masts, wishing he were on one, sailing, sailing anywhere, preferably into action.

"Damn," he said under his breath. "I will not talk about her. I will not. I will not hear you speak of her either."

Turning his steps away from the dockyard, Hornblower stretched out his stride and walked towards Portsmouth city proper, his mind set on putting as much distance between himself and Kennedy as he possibly could. The rapid steps required him to swerve around other passers by. When he stopped and looked about him, he was alone on the green grassy lawn of the city's cathedral, a little over a mile from the dockyard and the tavern. He stood in the shade of a tree, caught his breath, and stared at the white washed edifice. At the peak was a bronze weathervane in the shape of a ship. The wind was out of the northeast. Pulling off his hat, he sat down on the cool grass, then reclined, pulled open his coat, and stared through the branches of the tree to see wispy white clouds in an azure sky. He breathed deeply, stretched languidly, and his body cooled.

It was good to see Kennedy so well, his chipper self. He was doing fine on his own.

Now that Hornblower was not traveling at such a pace, he felt the fullness of the good meal inside him. Eyelids heavy, they slowly closed. His breathing became slow and steady.

///Soft hair brushed his chin. She stirred against his chest.

"Horatio?"

"Yes, my love?"

"Are you sure you love me?"

He smiled wryly. "Yes, I love you."

"But how do you know?"

"How do I know?" He pondered the question. "I cannot fathom how I could ever live without you." He looked down and saw her worried eyes looking back. "Come here, you." He pulled her up and she rested her arms on his shoulders and chest. They regarded one another face to face. He tucked her falling tresses behind an ear, then touched her cheek. She leaned against his hand and pressed it to her shoulder.

"I love you, Raysh." Her tone was fearful and sincere.

The nickname brought a smile despite the manner in which she said it. She seldom used the abbreviated name in general conversation.

"I love you, Pammee dahlin'," and he grinned as he mimicked the southern accent she had taught him.

Her eyes sparkled and her light laughter was like cool flower petals falling onto his chest. He rolled over, pinning her beneath him. Gently, he took each of her wrists and held them. She looked at his hands and then at his mischievous visage.

"What are you doing, sir?" she asked.

He did not answer, but his features revealed a triumph easily gained. As their eyes met, the playful attitude melted away. Looking from lips to eyes to lips, he lowered his mouth upon hers, softly pressing. She moaned as his firm cool tongue caressed the underneath edge of her mouth. His practiced member searched the warm velvet interior, caressing the soft tissues while his lips pushed against hers. He lowered his body, then slipped his arms beneath, embraced her, cradled her head, applied the deep stroking kisses, the two of them melding into one passion.

"God, Pamela, I love you," he whispered against her cheek.

She kissed his. "Come for me, Horatio," she whispered. "Remember the promise."///

"Are ye drunk, man?"

Horatio was wakened by a jabbing sensation.

"Here, now. What's going on? Are ye sick?"

Horatio sat up, then stood. "I beg your pardon. I... I must have dozed off."

Horatio looked upon a short aging man dressed in gardener's clothing with a hoe to hand. The tool that recently pressed against his side.

"The church grounds are no place to be sleepin' on a weekday, sir. Haven't ye got lodgings?"

"Yes, I... I apologize." Hornblower bent to retrieve the papers from the ground and shoved them under his arm. "Sorry." He pulled his father's pocket watch out and popped open the cover. His mother's portrait was inside the lid, but the current situation did not permit him to linger over her visage. It was half past two. He snatched his hat from the ground. "Sorry. Good day to you, sir."

"Hmph," said the groundsman.

Horatio was late. The swift walk altered into a loping gate. His appointment at Gieves and Hawke was for a quarter past two. The tailors requested that he come this afternoon for a final fitting of the new topcoats.

The bell jangled as he entered the store and pulled off his hat. Mr. Curran met him.

"Ah. Here you are at last, Mr. Hornblower."

"I apologize, Mr. Curran," he smiled nervously.

"Come along, then. We have the coats."

Hornblower followed the man to another room.

"Hopefully, no further adjustment will be needed. I am expecting another gentleman at three. Ten minutes..."

"I could come back tomorrow, Mr. Curran, if you wish..." started Hornblower.

"No, no. We can do it. We can do it."

Once inside the room, Curran lifted away Hornblower's old jacket.

"You've got a bit of grass on this coat," observed Curran, brushing it away, then picking at another piece.

Hornblower felt mild heat in his cheeks but said nothing.

Draping the old coat over the back of a chair, Curran lifted a new one from a drawer. He held it for Hornblower to slip his arms in, then pulled Horatio around and buttoned it up. Curran smoothed the shoulders and the chest, pinched the sides and tugged them downwards. As Curran pushed him around so he could inspect the back, Pamela came to mind, the day she had brushed him vigorously when she expected the artist to arrive. Hornblower turned his attention to the new-fashioned garment.

The uniform topcoat was of the modern style. White piping edged the collar and all the front edges. It had the long tails behind, but the front was cropped at the waist. The material was a deep almost black navy blue. The fabric smelled fresh, its pile crisp to the touch. Curran was picking up the shoulders and then smoothing them over his back.

"I think we've got it, Mr. Hornblower. Have a look."

Horatio took a step back to where he could see himself in the mirror. The new style cut quite the figure and he could not help but smile over the improvement from his worn working jacket. He turned sideways to look at the tail. The thinness of his body was hidden well and he could feel in the fullness of the garment that should he regain the weight there would be plenty of room for free movement.

"Let me get the hat," said Curran.

"You have the hat today as well?"

"Yes. I was surprised, too, sir," said Curran from a curtained room. He emerged with a pristine chapeau. "Here you are, sir. Fore and aft, you know. That's the current way of wearing them."

Hornblower looked at all sides of it before placing it on his head. He pulled down the front bill, then gazed critically at his image. Tufts of his curls stuck out at the sides. He mashed them behind his ears, a similar task flashing in his memory. It was Pamela's loose hair in the dream. He moistened his lips and returned his focus onto the clothing, then gave a tug at the edge of each sleeve, shrugging inside it.

"Very fine, sir, very fine," commented Curran, looking into the mirror with Hornblower.

The door bell jangled.

"That must be my three o'clock. You will excuse me, won't you, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Of course, Mr. Curran. It is my fault. Do not let me put you behind."

"You could do me a service if it is my three o'clock. He is another leftenant looking to purchase the very uniform made for you. Might he be permitted to see you in it?"

"Of course, sir. I would be happy to model your expertise," said Hornblower genially.

Curran walked the few steps to the outer room. "Ah, Mr. Kennedy. Most punctual. Most punctual, sir."

Hornblower heard the address. The shock to his nervous system emanated from his mid-section. Maybe it was some other Kennedy. Feeling like a trapped animal, he knew there was no way out of here. He stepped to the wall, keeping his back to the door.

"I have a gentleman here now collecting a leftenant's uniform in the new style," Hornblower heard Curran say.

"He has given his permission for you to see it. Just there," the tailor indicated down the narrow passage. "Let me gather my paperwork and I will be right back, sir."

"Thank you, Mr. Curran."

It was Archie's voice.

Hornblower heard his steps enter the room. He closed his eyes. **Not now,** he thought.

"Hello there. Sorry to intrude. Mr. Curran thought I might have a look at the new topcoat."

Kennedy waited and wondered why the leftenant did not move or face him. The broad shoulders were strangely familiar.

"Perhaps I misunderstood," Kennedy said apologetically.

Hornblower had told Curran the man could see him. The tailor did not know the situation. Hornblower had as much as given his word. What would be worse? Offending the tailor? Causing some ridiculous scene? If he let Archie leave in confusion, would not Curran then use his name and all would be revealed anyway? He moistened his lips, inhaled quietly, and turned slowly. He did not know what he would do with his eyes until he was facing Kennedy. Each pair bore into the other.

Kennedy's expression darted through a series of recognition, emotion, and uncertainty. His lips parted to speak, releasing a short gasp, but he had no voice. His eyes were filling.

Hornblower looked away unable to accept what he was seeing his friend experience. He wished he could walk past him and leave. He had given no thought to how Archie would react to his resurrection. He made himself look back into the eyes of his friend.

"H...Hor... Horatio?" he gasped thinly. The last image Archie had of Hornblower was of him falling into a tempestuous sea.

Hornblower blinked and gave a jerky single nod, his expression stern and unrelenting. The eight foot distance between them remained.

Kennedy wheezed as if he could not get enough air into his lungs. His chest jerked with an odd breathy laughter. It halted, and he appeared on the verge of tears. The laughter came sporadically and then ended like a choked sob.

Hornblower's firm countenance softened somewhat. "Mr. Kennedy. There is no need for... emotion."

"Mister Ke...?" Archie could not finish the name. He wiped his eyes with his fingers. Inclining his head, he tried to understand Hornblower's coldness. Hope had grown thin over the months of expectant waiting. What was wrong? Horatio acted as if he did not want to see him.

Hornblower reached into the inside pocket of the jacket, then realized the new one contained no handkerchiefs.

Blinking apologetically, he said, "I am not dead, Mr. Kennedy."

Archie's brow knit with a serious concern. "Are you sure about that?" He paused to see if the intent of his words would reach Hornblower. If they did, the impact was imperceptible. "I often wondered what I would do when I saw you alive and well. Shout, laugh, cry, praise the Lord. But you! If I were raving mad, this... this was never what I would have expected. Are you angry with me?"

"Don't be ridiculous," spat Hornblower, turning away.

Curran walked into the room. "Sorry to keep you gentlemen waiting. What do you think of the uniform, Mr. Kennedy?"

"The uniform is fine, Mr. Curran," said Kennedy hoarsely, his gaze fixed upon the floor.

Hornblower faced the wall, removed the hat, and unbuttoned the jacket.

Kennedy glimpsed Hornblower's back, now coatless. "I have your sea chest."

Hornblower froze.

Curran looked at each man, neither was looking at the other. The tailor placed a worried finger on his lips. The air in the room was charged with unspent emotion.

Hornblower was moving once more as he donned the old topcoat. He smoothed the front and realized it was what he was wearing when he last saw Kennedy, that night, while he was tangled in the fallen shrouds, his friend's face agonizing over his precarious position, insisting that he come back aboard the Indy.... but he could not. Hornblower almost let his guard down. He raised his eyes and found Kennedy's gaze fixed below his, somewhere on his chest.

"Mr. Curran, Mr. Kennedy and I are old shipmates. Could you excuse us for a moment?" asked Hornblower.

"Of course, sir."

Kennedy felt hope rise in his breast. Was Horatio coming around? Was he as glad to see him as Kennedy was Horatio? Would Horatio explain his confusing demeanor?

Hornblower closed the door to the small room. Pausing, he turned his head to see Kennedy's waiting expression. Archie looked hurt, yet curious. Better not to encourage him, thought Hornblower, for this very reason. Kennedy is too close. Better to hurt him now and save him double the pain later, if it was pain. Hornblower supposed it was, though he had a hard time accepting that anyone would mourn for him.

"If you will tell me when and where I may collect my sea chest, I will do it," said Hornblower lowly.

Archie snorted disdainfully. "I should have known that was all you wanted."

"Thank you for saving it for me."

"What has happened to you, Horatio?" This question aimed at his deportment, the next at his history. "What happened to you? How did you survive?"

Hornblower breathed deeply knowing he did not want to go through the story again. He had just shared it with Julia Arminter less than a week ago. "Providence."

"Providence? Is that all you are going to tell me?"

"In a nutshell, that is all there is to tell."

"Did you make it to Gibraltar?"

Here it was. Hornblower's response was rock hard.

"Yes," he hissed, and he waited for what he fully expected would come next.

"How was ..."

"Stop. Stop right there," ordered Hornblower, his tone decidedly angry, his eyes blazing. He pierced Kennedy with a fierce gaze. He was not more than three feet away now that they were both facing each other. "Listen and listen well." He took a step closer to Kennedy. "My wife is dead. I will not speak of her. You will not speak of her."

Kennedy's expression eased out of frustrated exasperation into disbelief. "No! Horatio! No!"

"Stop, Archie!"

"I don't believe it," said Kennedy, shaking his head. "I did not believe it for you. I do not believe it for her! What about the baby?"

Horatio pushed him against the wall, his forearm pressing against Kennedy's throat.

"Dead, damn you! They are both dead! Does that satisfy your morbid curiosity? They died a week before I reached Gibraltar, last March. I was too damn late. Never speak of them. Do you hear? Can I make myself any clearer?"

Hot burning blue eyes above hot cheeks, Archie shook his head as best he could with Hornblower smashing against him. Never in his life had he seen Horatio in such a fit of temper, the molten rage like fiery daggers.

Hornblower stepped away, giving Archie his back. His torso rose with a short cleansing breath. "The sea chest?" His voice was calm though detached, as if the moments before were non-existent.

Archie sniffed, wiped his face, and gathered himself together. "It would be easier if I brought it to you."

"Very well." Hornblower stepped over to the small table that held the paper the tailors used to jot down measurements. He wrote the address of the boarding house, then in two long strides, presented it to Kennedy. "There."

Archie took the slip of paper, checked the address, and shoved it into his breast pocket. He raised his eyes to Hornblower. "I cannot believe she is dead, Horatio." His voice cracked.

Hornblower was not prepared for Archie's grief over Pamela. How had he failed to analyze the way this meeting would go? He should have realized he would not be able to avoid Archie forever, though he had hoped it would be for longer than this. It was his own grief. It so captivated his mind there was no room to think of anyone else's. And... he could not bear Archie's.

"Tell Mr. Curran, if you would, to send the garments round. He knows the address." Hornblower grabbed his hat and left, never looking Kennedy's way.

Archie leaned against the door post for support and watched the back of his friend disappear through the outer door. He was stunned. Obtaining so much good and bad news in the space of a few minutes was overwhelming. March? It was mid-May. Was it true? Had Pamela and the baby been dead for two months? How? Disease? An accident? It did not appear that Horatio was going to tell him. Surely she had not done herself and the child in. The only person he could think to write was Maria. Barnstable was at sea. Who told Hornblower if it happened a week before he arrived? Maria? Was it Horatio's grief that made him so cold?

Kennedy stared at the far wall and he knew Hornblower realized it was him in the room. "He did not want to see me," he said under his breath, amazed and sad at the same time.

"Ah. Mr. Kennedy," said Curran as he saw the open door. He stepped into the doorway. "Where is Mr. Hornblower?"

"He left," answered Kennedy blankly. "He asked that you send the uniforms to his lodgings."

"But we didn't finish. I have the dress coat to check," he said, pulling open a drawer to reveal it. "Why did he leave?" Curran looked at the remaining young officer. "Are you all right, Mr. Kennedy?"

"I," he gulped, "have just received some devastating news, Mr. Curran. Could we postpone the measuring for another time?"

"Are you sure?"

"Cynthia will be under repair for another three days."

"Let me check the schedule," he said, passing by Kennedy, " and what am I to do about Mr. Hornblower?"

Kennedy followed the man to the outer room and stood beside the desk where Curran examined the appointment book.

"I may see him this evening," said Kennedy. "I will inform him you had not completed the fitting, if you wish."

Curran looked up from the sheet and noted Kennedy's solemn attitude. "Thank you, Mr. Kennedy. Are you all right, sir?"

"Yes, I... I think, I..." He stopped speaking, lost in thought.

Perplexed, Curran said, "I can reschedule you for tomorrow at eleven. Will that do?"

"Yes. I will see you tomorrow."

A dazed Kennedy stepped out onto Portsmouth Hard. What to think on? Pamela was foremost. Dead? No, she could not be. Not Horatio's Pamela.

"He is devastated," he said helplessly. "Hell, she wasn't my wife, and I'm devastated."

He looked up to see he was approaching the Dockyard gates, the tops of those huge gold balls gleaming in the afternoon sun. The marine guard allowed him to pass.

**Where am I going?** he asked himself. Was she in his report? Kennedy had to find out. With purpose to his step, he approached the Admiralty offices and entered.

He scanned the array of desks, then chose the closest one.

"Excuse me...er... Mr. Harrison?" Archie read the name.

"Yes?"

"I am Leftenant Kennedy I would like to read the report of, I believe, a recently returned officer. Whom would I see to make the request?" asked Kennedy.

The man viewed him curiously. "The Gazette will be out soon, sir."

"But... could I read the official report. I know the Gazette does not print everything."

Harrison twisted his mouth. "Just who is the officer in question?"

"Leftenant Horatio Hornblower. We were officers together in Indefatigable, Captain Pellew commanding." Archie's blue eyes were hopeful. At least the man had not summarily refused.

Harrison inhaled loudly, then looked wryly over his shoulder.

A leftenant bent to a paper and pen task barely looked up to meet Harrison's gaze but apparently gave some motion that hinted at an affirmative answer.

Harrison peered up at Kennedy from his seated position, then pointed. "See Leftenant Dix there."

"Thank you, Mr. Harrison."

Archie drew near the desk indicated.

"Your name?" asked Dix looking up briefly, then returning to complete a sentence.

"Lt. Kennedy, sir. I serve in Cynthia currently."

"Take a seat." Dix pointed at the wooden chair with the tip of the quill to hand.

"Thank you, sir."

Archie sat and held his hat and watched Dix scribble another line, then sand and blot the paper. Finally, the older leftenant wove his fingers together and rested his hands on the desk.

"What can I do for you, Mr. Kennedy?"

"I understand Leftenant Hornblower has recently returned. We were shipmates in Indefatigable and..." Archie moistened his lips and met Dix's gaze, "we were friends. I wanted to find out how... how he survived, where he has been for the last four months."

"Have you not been able to locate him here? I know for a fact he is not yet posted."

Archie lowered his gaze. Should he fabricate a reason or be honest? He looked up at Dix. "He... he isn't himself."

"What do you mean?" asked Dix, his brow furrowed.

"Mr. Hornblower and I have been friends for years. He ... was lost in a storm last January, February first actually. We thought he was dead."

"Yes, I know this part of the story," said Dix.

Mildly surprised, Archie continued sadly, yet hopefully. "When we brought Indefatigable into port last March, I was to take his belongings to his father, but..."

"You learned he had passed away."

"Yes, sir," replied Archie curiously. "You are familiar with Mr. Hornblower's circumstances?"

"Yes. Yes, I am." Dix sighed and considered Kennedy's request.

"And, you know ... about his wife, too?"

Dix lifted a stack of papers and files sitting on the corner of his desk and pulled one from the middle. Opening it, he shuffled the pages then read silently. Looking up at Kennedy, he said, "What is it you know?"

"He said his wife was... had passed away."

"Then, you have spoken to him?"

"Yes, ... well... sort of." Archie caught a breath and suspended it. "You have to understand Horatio."

"Indeed?" Dix thought about the next statement. "Since you know about his wife, I can confirm that he did state that she was deceased."

"Does it say...er, can you tell me how?"

"It is only stated that Mr. Hornblower is grieving over her loss. That is to be expected."

Kennedy felt his eyes burning and bowed his head. Indeed, Horatio would grieve and he grieved with him. "Did he write that in his report?"

"I do not believe so. In fact, no mention whatsoever was made of a Mrs. Hornblower until Dr. Harmony's recommendations. He merely states that Mr. Hornblower is grieving the loss of two close members of his family and that it was his opinion that Mr. Hornblower was on the mend."

"Dr. Harmony?"

"A surgeon at Haslar"

"I see."

"But do not waste your time there, Mr. Kennedy. Doctors do not discuss the particulars of a patient's history."

"Yes, sir. I understand."

"Since you were shipmates, you must know of Hornblower's head injuries."

"Yes."

The time Hornblower was in sick berth after the Effington affair sprang to mind. Kennedy had fretted over Horatio's well-being. The two blows so close together, the second nearly killing him, it had been the reason Hornblower was sent home to recover.

"He suffered another blow which made four, apparently. At his inquiry, it was ordered that he be examined by a second doctor before being allowed to resume active service. The doctor saw no impediments and his name was placed on the active list about three days ago."

Archie was amazed and was considering the fourth head injury when his mind was assaulted with the idea of Horatio undergoing a Board of Inquiry.

"An inquiry?"

"Have you spoken to Mr. Hornblower?" asked Dix.

"I tried."

"Oh. I see." Dix paused. "What is it you want, Mr. Kennedy?"

"I want to understand what he has been doing for the past four months. He is in such a mood, I know he will not tell me on his own." Archie leaned forward. "I'm his friend, Lt. Dix. Horatio can be so... stiff-brained sometimes."

Dix snorted and smiled. "Well, as I told him the day I read his 'story',-- he has the makings of a novelette." Dix pulled out the thick copy Horatio had left with Dr. Harmony, then passed it to Kennedy. "The blotted bits are diplomatic secrets. He has been ordered not to speak of it. But, the rest is simply fascinating reading. Mr. Hornblower appears to lead an unusual life, Mr. Kennedy, from what I have seen of the rest of his record. It saddens me to hear of the loss of his wife. I like Mr. Hornblower. I think I like you, too. I think he needs a friend. Don't we all?" Dix rose to his feet. "Don't get up. Harrison and I are popping out for a spot of tea, would you like one?"

"No, thank you, sir," answered Archie.

"You may stay here and read. I should return before you finish."

"Thank you, Lt. Dix."

Harrison and Dix notified their office mates they were destined for tea, but neither of them took up the offer for a cup.

Harrison looked over his shoulder to see Kennedy reading intently.

"Why do you do it, Richard?" asked Harrison.

"Do what, George?"

"You know." He nodded back towards Kennedy. "First Hornblower and now his friend?"

"Hornblower's story was immensely interesting. Did you ever read it?"

"As if I have time to read every bloody report that comes through this office. That's for you and Caulfield."

"These officers are making history, George. I wish I could read every full report and meet every man. Hornblower is quite a character."

"Yes, I remember you telling me about the fireship incident in Gibraltar."

"Right. And, if I had not been the one to meet him the day he returned here, I never would have connected that with this latest daring do. He survived chilling temperatures, he..."

"Yes, yes, yes. You've told me before." Harrison sighed.

"Mark my words, we have not heard the last of Mr. Hornblower."

"So why ..."

"Because he is his friend. As I said to Lt. Kennedy, we all need to have friends,... in high places and low. I just happen to have a large number of low ones."

"But for them, you are one of the high. There is no way Newcombe would have given Hornblower his back pay and prize money that quickly without your intervention."

Dix smiled. "Well, ... Newcombe has benefited from my position on occasion. You see, it is good to be able to call in a debt, now and then."

"But..."

"I know what you are going to say, George, that it aided me in no palpable way. But, I beg to differ. These men are putting their lives on the line everyday. They are England's finest. We are England's finest, too, but we are sailing desks not ships." Dix added, "I have no ambition to do more than I am. I am quite comfortable being a shepherd."

"A shepherd? You mean like a vicar?"

"Not exactly, George. More a port in a storm type of shepherd. We all need that every now and then, too. The important thing for me is to recognize which ships truly need the mooring. These two do."

"Right," said Harrison, giving in.

The two officers returned twenty minutes later to see Kennedy in the same position, reading. Dix quietly hung his hat and sat down.

"Still at it?" questioned Dix.

Kennedy looked up. "Third time through actually. There is a lot to digest."

"Indeed."

Kennedy passed the report back. "Thank you, Leftenant."

"I hope it will be of some help."

"Me, as well," said Kennedy wryly. Standing, he extended his hand.

Dix took it. "Good luck, sir."

"Thank you. I will need it," answered Kennedy.

Outside on the hard packed earth, Kennedy stepped nearer the water. Indefatigable, newly masted and rigged, swayed on the swells about two cable lengths away.

**I miss you, old girl,** thought Kennedy. **Without you to contain Mr. Hornblower, I do not know how much he is going to let me in. Why do you have to be so damn difficult, Horatio? I know you miss her. I know it's a more difficult kind of missing. I cannot believe she is dead. Oh Christ.**

Kennedy pulled the slip of paper from his pocket and read the address. "Highbury Street. Where are you, Matthews? I know you would want to know."

Turning on his heel, Kennedy set his course to leave the dockyards. On Portsmouth Hard proper, he traveled eastward passing Gieves and Hawke till he came to a small side street. Going left on it for a space, he then turned onto another smaller road which angled off to the right. The buildings were worse for wear, the wood trim needing scraping and painting. Finally, Kennedy turned into a short courtyard that led to an open doorway. The rough men he passed gave him the eye, or nodded, and one knuckled his forehead. He entered the drinking house and approached the bar.

"Mr. Charles?"

The respectful address brought the head up of the man behind the counter.

"Mr. Kennedy. You looking for Matthews so soon?"

"Aye, but not for sailing. Is he here?"

"Aye, he is, and that rapscallion Styles is with him."

"Styles? Has he sobered up?"

"No, sir. But that don't stop Ben from tryin'."

Archie smiled and said. "I have some news that may do it. Same room?"

"Aye, sir."

"Thank you, Mr. Charles."

Kennedy mounted the stairs near the back door. The rough wooden planks under his tread creaked. Reaching the landing, he went along the narrow hallway to the room numbered with a two and knocked.

"Matthews, it's Mr. Kennedy," he announced.

Loud whispers, which Kennedy could not make out, were followed by a slurred, "... give a damn." Kennedy frowned wryly and shook his head.

At last the door opened.

"Mr. Kennedy! I warn't expectin' ye so soon, sir. Ye coulda sent a note. I'da come, sir. You know me," defended Matthews.

"I am not here to collect you, Matthews. May I come in?"

Matthews hesitated. "Well, ... sir, I..."

"I know you have Styles with you. Mr. Charles told me."

"He's five sheets to the wind, sir," said Matthews stepping back to allow Kennedy entrance.

Styles was filthy, sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall. His hair was more straggly than usual and he had at least a week's growth of beard

"Good God, Styles, you reek, man!" said Kennedy as the offending odor reached him. "I don't know why Matthews puts up with you."

"Go to hell, sir," slurred Styles, sullenly.

"Styles," said Matthews reproachfully.

"At least his insults are polite," said Kennedy to Matthews.

Archie took the single chair in the room, placed it backwards in front of the drunken seaman, threw a leg over to straddle it, then sat and rested his arms on the back. Styles was in no condition to hear any news about Hornblower. Archie thought about telling Matthews, but if the older man told Styles before he sobered up, the big sailor might become unmanageable. No, he best save his news for when both of them could comprehend what he was saying.

"You're a sorry sight, man," said Kennedy. "What would Mr. Hornblower say?" That was as much of a hint as he was going to give them.

"Bleedin' nothin'," said Styles, weaving where he sat. "You're heartless to say his name to me, Mr. Kennedy!" and he mumbled something else that did not sound particularly flattering about Kennedy's heritage.

Archie chose to overlook the mutterings coming from a man deep in his cups.

"Do you not think it time to stop trying to kill yourself with spirits, Styles?"

"Nope. I'm not dead yet.... sir." Styles tried to rise but fell against the wall.

Pushing back from it, he said, "Where's me bottle, Matty?"

"You drank it all, ye sorry sod," answered Matthews.

"Hell," whispered Styles, his cheek pressed against the wall.

"It's the only time ye can get him sober, Mr. Kennedy, when he runs out o'money. Then, he does a bit o'work for anybody that'll hire him, and he spends it all on liquor."

"Then, my timing is fortuitous. I need you men to cart something for me. But, he's got to clean up first. I would not take him down to shovel muck in his present condition," he said to Matthews. "So. Styles. If it is money you want, here is your chance to earn a few pence."

A snore sounded against the wall.

"I'll get him cleaned up, sir," said Matthews.

Kennedy rose and stepped to the door.

"You haven't long. Nine tonight. Come to the rooms on Queen Street."

"Yes, sir," said Matthews.

Kennedy departed from this seedy side of Portsmouth and made his way back to his quarters on Queen Street. The building was not far from the harbour. It was an arrangement he inherited from Hayward, the man whose ship he commanded. Hayward and three other leftenants employed similarly by the admiralty, commanding small ships without much space for extended duties, shared the cost of a large room with two single beds. Seldom were three of them in port at the same time, and all four nearly never. It was a place to keep clothing, sea chests, hang a hat, and get a bath when the need arose. The landlord agreed on the multiple use of the room as he benefited from its constant rental, and many times no one was in residence for several nights.

Kennedy entered the room and shut the door. Christopher had not yet returned. He tossed his hat on the bed, then opened the window. A breeze blew through it and he removed his jacket. Sighing, he approached the tall thin sea chest pressed against the wall behind his own. Pushing the front one towards him, he slipped the latch out and lifted the lid inscribed with "H. Hornblower". There was not much inside and he had to reach in to grab the wooden rectangle wrapped with a shirt. He removed the frame and opened it, then stepped back for better light from the open window. He shook his head; his mouth formed a frown.

The portrait was stunning.

"She is beautiful, Horatio."

The brown eyes revealed a hidden liveliness, the rosy apple of her cheek vibrant as the deep rose color of the dress emphasized the paler shade. 'Delucca' was the name of the artist. His use of light and color was affecting. The young woman gave the notion she had just shared a happy moment or was ready to do so.

"Pamela. What happened? Am I never to know?" He looked on the loving features and touched the painted cheek. "He is heart broken. You waited, didn't you? I told you he wasn't dead, though I confess there were times when I doubted. He won't talk to me. He won't talk to me, Pamela. He doesn't want me to speak of you. I could tell him what a fine son he ... had." Kennedy choked and his eyes pooled. "God! I cannot believe you're dead."

Kennedy stroked his forehead, then moved to sit at the simple wooden desk Christopher and Hayward bought together. He triangled the picture frame to stand on the desk top, then removed writing paper from the top drawer. He would write Maria. She must know what became of, or befell, Horatio's family.

 

 

 

At nine o'clock, Kennedy had barely returned from the meal in the dining room, when the knock came at the door.

"Mr. Kennedy? It's me, sir, Matthews ... and Styles."

Kennedy opened the door. "Come in."

Matthews entered and an apologetic Styles behind him.

Styles saw Hornblower's chest sitting away from the wall and the muscles of his cheek twitched.

"Styles has somethin' ta say, Mr. Kennedy," announced Matthews. "Go on now, Styles. Tell him."

"Mr. Kennedy, sir," Styles knuckled a salute to his bowed head. "If I said things I shouldna today, sir, I beg yer pardon. I wasn't meself."

Kennedy smiled wryly. "Are you sober now, Styles?"

"As much as I can be, sir."

"You look better, and you smell delightful compared to this afternoon."

"Oh, I dunked him good, sir," informed Matthews, "and I had a bit o' that soap left what Miss Pamela give me way back."

Kennedy and Styles flinched slightly at the mention of her name but for different reasons, Kennedy because of what he knew, Styles because he felt guilty dropping her husband and the father of her child into a raging sea.

"Is Lord Edrington come, sir? I see ye've got Mr. Hornblower's chest drug out. Is that what we're cartin'?"

"Yes, but not to Lord Edrington."

Archie had forgotten Edrington was expected soon. The major was to meet a cousin in Southhampton and he had offered to come early to collect the sea chest. When Archie learned Dr. Hornblower had passed away, he had kept the dunnage at Julia Arminter's suggestion. In a letter to Edrington about Hornblower, he had mentioned incidentally that having an extra sea chest to follow him around would be cumbersome if he should get a posting to a ship. Edrington replied with an offer to store it at his estate until Archie decided to do something else with it, or Hornblower appeared to claim it. Archie had accepted the offer, and he expected to hear from Edrington most anytime.

"I thought his lordship offered ta stow it for ye, sir?"

"He did, but... we are not taking it to Edrington." Kennedy paused. He had not been able to decide which news to tell the men first. "I am glad you brought up Mr. Hornblower's wife, Matthews. I ... I do not know how to tell you this, but... she and the baby have passed away."

Styles mouth dropped open and Matthews looked as stunned as Kennedy had felt that afternoon.

"Dead, sir?" squeaked Matthews. "How, sir? Who told ye?"

"I don't know the circumstances. We may never know, but the source must be believed."

Styles backed away until his body hit the wall that prevented any further motion. His head was spinning and his stomach was churning.

"I can't believe it. When? Do ye know when, sir?" asked Matthews.

"Last March sometime."

"Who told ye? Mr. Barnstable? Carden? That dago lady, Miss Maria?"

"No. None of those."

Matthews looked at Styles and then, at Kennedy.

"Well... you've had the bad news, men. I really do not know how to prepare you for what I have to say next. It will bring such conflict ... to the emotions... I know."

"What, sir?" asked Matthews anxiously, feeling hung on a tenterhook.

"The source of the news about Mrs. Hornblower is... Mr. Hornblower."

Styles looked at Kennedy sharply, as if he expected some further jab into his gut.

Matthews was silent at last, his eyes blinking repeatedly.

"Are ye sayin'... he's alive?" asked Styles shakily.

Kennedy held the man's gaze and nodded. "I am."

"Mr. Hornblower's alive?" said Matthews. "Did ye say he was alive, Mr. Kennedy?"

"I did, Matthews."

The old sailor bowed his head and had a similar reaction to Kennedy, laughing and crying and not doing either with any great aplomb.

"Where is he?" asked Styles, defiantly. "I won't believe it till I sees him with me own eyes."

"You will, Styles. You will see him with your own eyes."

"But ... Miss Pamela? Is it true, sir?" asked Matthews.

Kennedy gulped, remembering how Horatio had attacked him earlier. "You must not say anything to him about her."

"But... why?" asked Matthews. "Did he see his son?"

"No." With the crack in his voice, Kennedy turned away. "He said he arrived in Gibraltar a week after they had died. He would not speak on the subject further." Kennedy faced the two ratings. "He ... grieves their loss, as you would expect. I offer you a warning. If you ever want to serve with him again, you best not bring her up more than to offer your condolences, and I recommend you only do that once."

Matthews and Styles exchanged glances.

"Has he got a ship?" asked Matthews.

"No. Not according to Leftenant Dix of the port admiral's offices."

Matthews and Styles exchanged looks again.

"What are we going to do, Mr. Kennedy?" asked Matthews.

"We are going to take him his sea chest. He wants it. He was willing to tell me where he is staying to get it. He is not himself. I warn you."

"He's grievin' over Miss Pamela... and his da! Ain't he?" said Matthews.

"Two death blows, Matthews. Indeed," sighed Kennedy.

"I wish the Cap'n was here," said Styles.

Kennedy and Matthews stared at the big man.

"I wish we was all back on the Indy." Styles walked to the chest and lifted it. "Where we goin', sir?"

"Let me give a hand, man," ordered Matthews, and Styles lowered a side to him.

Kennedy motioned them out the door. "It isn't far, really."

As they made their way down the stairs, Matthews' thoughts were rapidly taken to that night on the Indy, the night he was in the main top yard, him and five other picked topmen chosen out of both watches, those who were not injured in the battle earlier. He watched it evolve on the deck beneath him, in the shattering flicker of lightning. He had not heard clearly what was going on, but he could guess from what he was watching unfold. The moment he saw a man climb over the side, his innards knotted further than they already were. When he realized the man was Hornblower, an ominous feeling settled upon him. It was a bad night, some of the worst weather conditions he had ever experienced, and the state of affairs of the frigate and crew compounded their dire straits. Indefatigable was wounded, her men were wounded, everyone was exhausted, and the elements would not let them be.

"How'd he survive the cold, sir? That water was damn cold." Matthews was so lost in thought he did not realize the language he was using with an officer.

Styles stopped the downward movement to listen for Kennedy's reply.

Kennedy thought about the question, whether he should answer it or not, whether he should give the terse reply Hornblower had given him, or share what he really knew.

"I was able to read a copy of his report. He believes it was due to the fever he had and the clothing he wore. Remember, he had been sick with a fever that day."

"I do, sir," said Matthews, "We had to fetch him up to help fight when the other officers were wounded."

"Right, Matthews, and thank God we had him in reserve," stated Archie.

Archie recalled the occasion when he walked into the shared cabin to see Hornblower wearing the sweater his father had given him.

//////////"Stop laughing. My mother made it for my father."

"Horatio," grinned Archie, "You know I would never insult your mother or your father, but.... It is large in odd places."

Hornblower stared down at the sweater, his nose sinking into the rolled down neck, seeing the torso part reaching to his thighs, and his hands disappearing in the long sleeves.

"She wanted him to be warm, Archie."//////////

"How long has Mr. Hornblower been back, sir?" asked Matthews. "When did ye speak to him?"

"That I do not know, Matthews. I came upon him by accident. I told you, he is not himself. We haven't spoken, not really, other than for ... Just be careful what you say."

They were out of the building and onto the street. There was not much foot traffic this time of night. Archie knew if he was going to catch Horatio at his lodgings that evening would be the more likely time.

Kennedy had traced the path they now followed before he took dinner. He led them almost to Portsmouth Hard, but they veered up an angled street just before reaching it. The lane was quiet, being mostly residences of a boarding nature.

No one had spoken for some time when Styles came to a standstill.

"Fever and clothing be damned.... Sorry, Mr. Kennedy," said Styles. "How long was he in the water? Was we closer to land than we thought? There is no way anyone else coulda picked him up. He made it to land, din't he?"

Kennedy looked upon Styles with a modicum of wonderment. "Styles. The alcohol you have consumed has not dulled your cogitative processes?"

Styles looked slightly offended and dubious as he moved his gaze from Kennedy to Matthews.

"He means them spirits you been drinkin' ain't dulled yer wits," translated Matthews. "It's kind of a compliment, Styles."

"You mean me mind is sharp, sir?" Styles asked Kennedy.

"Sort of, yes, Styles," answered the officer. "About him making land, that was my conclusion as well. When I finally looked at the time that night... " Kennedy recollected his unreasonable demands and considered them due to exhaustion and shock.

///////"Let me go! Damn it, Styles, get off me!" screamed Archie. "I've got to get him back on board!"

Styles pressed him to the deck in Pellew's after cabins at Sebastian's order. "He's gone, sir! I'll no be lettin' you go, too. The doctor says yer ankle's twisted. He's gone, Mr. Kennedy! He's gone!"/////////

Kennedy continued "... it was past seven bells,... after half past three. Mr. Hornblower's report said it was just dawning when he woke to hear the surf pounding the shore in the distance. He said dolphins pushed him and the wreckage landward."

Matthews and Styles glanced at each other, each falling deep into thought. The threesome walked silently, turning up a street Kennedy indicated.

"She was prayin' for him," said Matthews at last. "Miss Pamela,... she was. She was a good woman. She loved our Mr. Hornblower," said Matthews sadly, "... and he loved her," he whispered. "He's torn up, ain't he, Mr. Kennedy?"

The trio halted and waited for Kennedy's confirmation.

Kennedy nodded. "He is, Matthews."

"How come he's been gone so long?" piped up Styles. We searched that coastline. Where was he?"

"As he tried to make it to shore, somehow one of the splintered yards caught and struck him," Kennedy answered.

"Not his head!" exclaimed Matthews in disbelief.

The officer nodded.

"Oh, Christ," muttered Styles. "It's a wonder he's got any sense left."

"Styles," reproached Matthews.

"Sorry, sir."

"Apparently, between the blow and the exposure to the elements he suffered from amnesia. Adding to his confusion-- the woman that found him on the beach spoke only Portuguese."

"Dagos," frowned Styles.

"She took care of him, Styles, according to his report. Let us be thankful for small miracles."

"Yes, sir." After a few quiet moments, Styles said, "Is he really alive, Mr. Kennedy, or are ye pullin' me leg, sir?"

The threesome halted.

"Here it is," stated Kennedy, motioning to a three story house.

They walked up to the stoop and Kennedy rapped on the door. A few moments later a young woman opened it.

"Yes?" she questioned.

Kennedy thought her rather plain, but was slightly amused to think of Horatio in a boarding house with females, then chided himself for the thought because of Pamela.

"Good evening, Miss. I have a delivery for Mr. Hornblower. I was told these are his lodgings."

"They are, sir. Come in."

"Here now. Who's this? We haven't any room at the moment," informed Mrs. Mason, coming from the dining room, smoothing the apron over her skirt.

"They have something for Mr. Hornblower, Mother."

"At this hour? I ask you, is this a decent hour for making deliveries?" Mrs. Mason peered around Kennedy and saw the labeled furniture. "Another chest? The man will not have room to move. Perhaps he'll want it stored."

"That will be for Mr. Hornblower to decide, Mother. I'll show them to his room."

Mrs. Mason eyed the trio haughtily but was somewhat impressed that her newest lodger was receiving so much outside attention. Clothiers, another chest, it was astonishing news.

"I do apologize for the hour, Miss," said Kennedy as he followed her up the stairs. He looked back at Matthews and Styles.

"It's all right, sir. Don't mind my mother." The stairs doubled back on themselves as they made their way up. "We were just finishing clearing up from dinner. We are generally awake until at least eleven, most nights anyway." They reached the second floor and followed her single file down the hallway. Maria gave Kennedy a small smile. "Here we are, sir." She knocked on the door. "Mr. Hornblower?"

"Yes, Maria?" came a voice.

Matthews jerked his view to Styles. His mate's face went pale with amazement.

"There are some gentlemen with a delivery for you, sir."

"Just a moment."

Hornblower was laying in bed in his shirtsleeves reading. Frowning, he tugged on his jacket. "Who would be making a delivery at this hour?" muttered Hornblower. "Damn. Not Archie."

He opened the door. There was the little daughter of his landlady. He realized he came to think of her in those terms, partly because of her stature. Pamela was taller than this girl.

"Maria," he said, then saw her companion. "Mr. Kennedy! I thought you would send someone round with it, not come yourself."

"Dream on, Horatio," said Kennedy in a challenging tone.

Hornblower looked beyond him and saw the two who had once been under his command. He was not prepared for a reunion of any sort. Matthews, Styles, what would he say? He drew his gaze away and back to Maria. If by chance he could not control his emotions, good or bad, he did not want Maria to see.

"Thank you, Maria, for showing them to my room."

"Yes, sir," and she made a small curtsey.

"I will see they find their way out," added Hornblower.

"Goodnight, sir." Maria smiled and made her way around the men and down the stairs. Nothing was said until she was no longer visible.

"Do you think this a proper hour, Mr. Kennedy?" asked Hornblower, walking back into his room.

Kennedy raised an eyebrow to Matthews and Styles, then stepped inside Hornblower's room. Hornblower had nothing congenial to say and he ignored his old crewmen.

"Give me a moment to tidy the place," said Hornblower, squatting to retrieve the books from his father spread all over the floor between the bed and the trunk.

Kennedy looked around at the small humble space. A bed, a washstand dresser, the trunk, and ... Horatio's mother's picture hanging on the wall across the room. Kennedy spied a painting of a sailboat leaning against the wall, the spot's former occupant, he was sure. He looked down to see Hornblower snatching books and piling them into the open trunk.

"Let me help you," he said and he was immediately beside Hornblower, reaching for a volume. He looked at the title. "Much Ado About Nothing?"

Hornblower lifted it from Kennedy's grasp, then glanced nervously at the other two men holding the sea chest. He said nothing.

"I did not know you read Shakespeare."

"I read them years ago. They were my father's books. I just never had the inclination to memorize every line." He stopped to see if the words had wounded Kennedy, then, went back to the task. Hornblower was agitated that Archie had come himself and brought the ratings. The hour was late for visitors and he knew Mrs. Mason would not be pleased. Thank goodness for Maria and her genial good nature. "There," he announced. "You can put it against the wall over there," he motioned, stepping back to make room for the two men to pass by.

They placed it against the wall, then the two stared at their old division officer.

Matthews broke into a wide grin and looked Hornblower over from top to toe. His officer was in his stocking feet and improperly dressed in the uniform.

"By the holies," Matthews whispered, grinning.

Hornblower was completely abashed, not knowing what to do or say.

"Mr. Hornblower, sir," said Matthews, knuckling a salute.

Hornblower tried his damnedest not to show any sort of emotion, but he was glad to see them after all. The history he shared with all these men, before Pamela, during, and after; it could not be ignored, just as he could not resist the twitching of his cheek any longer. He smiled sadly.

"It is good to see you, Mr. Matthews."

"And, you, sir." Matthews' face became mournful. "I'm... I'm sorry to hear about Miss Pamela, sir, and the babee." Matthews' eyes were hopeful that he had not spoken out of turn.

Rage appeared a fraction of a moment on Hornblower's countenance which then became stony. He blinked and nodded and looked away.

"Thank you for bringing the sea chest, men," said Hornblower, reaching into his pocket.

Kennedy placed a hand on Hornblower's. "I've got it, Horatio."

The touch between the two men fired off like a lightning bolt.

"Mr. Kennedy, it is my sea chest." There was a cold edge to Hornblower's tone.

"Neither of ye need pay me," interrupted Matthews. "No need, sirs. I'm glad to see ye live, Mr. Hornblower. I offers my sympathy on the passing of yer wife, babee, and da. Come on, Styles."

Styles had frozen to the spot he stood in.

Hornblower regarded him in his immobile state, then nodded and said, "Styles."

The big man walked towards him, and though Hornblower took a step back to let him pass by in the tight quarters of the room, Styles halted in front of him. He was slightly taller than Hornblower and Horatio had to tilt his head slightly to see the man's face. Before he had a chance to say anything, the rating had him in a bear hug, the sudden embrace forcing a guttural sound from Hornblower's throat.

It was the tightest embrace Hornblower had ever experienced. He expected Styles to release him after a moment, but he did not.

"Styles?" he whispered at last.

"I thought I'd killed ye, sir," said Styles, his voice full of emotion.

Was the huge man crying, wondered Hornblower? He raised his eyes to see Kennedy staring at the floor. Matthews stood in the door, his view averted.

Hornblower gulped. He thought Starns was exaggerating the day he said he thought Styles might kiss him. The hold he was in was enough. He did not want to hurt the man's feelings, but... **Say something,** Hornblower told himself.

"You followed my orders, Styles."

The grip increased causing a groan from Hornblower, then the man released him.

"Sorry, sir." Styles stepped back. "I'm pleased to see ye, sir. I'm sorry to hear yer bad news."

Hornblower nodded, embarrassed, and refilled his vacant lungs as quietly as he could and avoided looking at Kennedy.

The ratings were leaving. Kennedy was pressing something into Styles' palm and unfinished sentences about accepting the payment ensued between them. In the end, Kennedy won out.

After Matthews and Styles were gone, Kennedy said for lack of anything else that came to mind, "He needs the money. Though I am hoping he will use it for something other than drink."

"Let me repay you," said Hornblower.

"I do not want your money, Horatio," said Kennedy.

Hornblower fidgeted with his hands at his pocket, unable to hold Kennedy's gaze, then walked over to the open window and stared out without seeing. He did not know if he wanted to order Kennedy out or if he should be polite since the man had returned the chest. Or was he silent for some other reason? He was confused about his motives and his silence.

"You told them," said Hornblower quietly. That was it. What had Kennedy told them and why?

"After your reaction this afternoon, I thought it best to warn them."

Hornblower nodded and hung his head.

"I ... I apologize, Mr. Kennedy."

"No need," said Archie, taking a step nearer. He considered his next words carefully. "You called me Archie... earlier today, at least once. Must we be so formal?"

Hornblower lifted his view to the darkened streets. "It's for the best," he said hollowly.

Archie moved a little closer. "No, it isn't,... but I know you tell yourself that."

Hornblower did not face Archie, but neither did he send him away. In his mind, he told himself to do just that, but his mouth remained steadfastly shut. **Tell him to go,** he told himself over and over.

"You're my best friend, Horatio. Do you think I do not know that you are suffering? I know how much you loved her. I won't say anymore," he added quickly, "but don't shut me out, Horatio. You need me. You made it through seeing Matthews and Styles."

Hornblower's head shot up, and he looked upon Kennedy with amazement. Damn Archie and his perceptions where people were concerned, thought Horatio. It was that part of Archie that tended to complete him. Where he was able to rein in Archie's impulsive nature when it came to shipboard protocol, Archie could put his finger on an aberration of human nature faster than he could and with more precision. When such a tactic was needed by Hornblower, either luck, humility, or a best guess worked for him. Sometimes he was right, and sometimes he had to hold his tongue and accept the consequences if he did not, whatever they might be. Kennedy was speaking again.

"Other than the captain, they had to be your sternest test. They brought her to you,... twice, and besides,-- Styles needed to know you were alive before he drank himself to death."

Indefatigable. Hornblower missed the ship and all she represented of his past life... but even she brought Pamela to mind. **It is for the best that that crew is disbanded,** he told himself.

"You are more than a brother, you blockhead." Kennedy was talking again. "Even though you've been gone for months, ... I know you."

**Her portrait is in my sea chest, isn't it?** Hornblower thought but could not ask.
He slowly wagged his head from side to side. **Lifting that lid will be like opening a coffin.**

"I will not weep," whispered Hornblower.

Kennedy took a step closer and watched his friend. Was he speaking to him or to himself?

"I have wept, Horatio, for both you and her." Kennedy paused. "You are grieving for people you loved. It's only human. You are human, you know. It is all right to mourn."

Hornblower leaned against the wall and faced Archie.

"Weeping does no earthly good," said Hornblower, liquid pools glinted beneath his sad chocolate eyes in the flickering candlelight.

"I think if Dr. Sebastian were here he would disagree," said Archie softly.

"I'm not an old woman, Archie."

"I never considered you as such."

Hornblower stared at the sea chest next to him, knowing, and the knowing tore at his heart. The portrait... he would have to look, at least once.

"She calls to me ... in dreams," whispered Hornblower. He looked at Archie and shook his head. "Please, go."

"Horatio..." Archie stepped closer.

"Go, Archie." He was barely able to keep his voice steady.

Kennedy hesitated, then said, "Mr. Curran asked me to tell you he was not finished with the fitting. He wants you to come back tomorrow."

Hornblower nodded, his eyes downcast, hoping they would not overflow.

"Is there anything else I can do?"

Hornblower shook his head.

"I want to see you, talk to you."

Hornblower did not respond.

Archie reached out and touched his arm. Hornblower drew back and Kennedy relented.

"Horatio...?"

Kennedy did not want to leave, but he was not sure how far he should press the point.

"Goodnight, Horatio."

Kennedy closed the bedroom door quietly behind him.

Moving slowly, Hornblower opened the lid of the sea chest. The contents were deep down. He hadn't much clothing left when he went over the side of Indefatigable.

It was wrapped, like his mother's portrait had been. He lifted it out and let the cloth drop away, then raised the top cover. His eyes flooded and he looked through the mounting pools at the face of the woman he loved.

"Pamela," he breathed, "Pamela, I do not want to weep any more."

Kennedy listened to the muffled lamentation barely audible through the closed door. He could guess what caused it, felt his own eyes burning, and struggled to keep from going back inside. He wanted to comfort his friend, but he had to respect him, too. He closed his eyes, feeling Horatio's pain.

"God, help him. Please, help him," whispered Kennedy, and he stalked off down the hallway swiftly. Reaching the stairs, he hesitated, looking back from whence he had come. The struggle resumed. Go or stay.

"Damn it, Horatio."

He lowered a foot onto the first tread, then stopped. Why was he waiting? He knew in his heart of hearts what he wanted to do, what he thought Horatio needed him to do, but ....

Should he?

"Oh hell. Respect be damned. I'm your friend, not just your bloody fellow officer, no matter how much you want to treat me as such."

Taking long strides, he halted outside the door, his hand hovering over the knob. He could hear the muted sobs and his heart melted. Carefully, he opened the door.

Horatio sat at the foot of the bed beside the portrait of Pamela, which he'd cast open upon the coverlet. His face was covered with his hands, the long fingers reached into his curls, clutching, pulling and releasing them, over and over, all the while his chest bounced with erratic breaths as he tried to control his emotions. He was speaking the same words repeatedly, "Not going to weep," and then he did for a moment until the quick pants gave a respite, and then, the cycle resumed.

Archie felt the hot flush of empathy for his friend and blinked his burning eyes. Silently, he closed the door, but the latch entered with a click.

Horatio heard it and looked up. Immediately, he was off the bed, backing into the shadows.

Archie walked towards him.

"No, Archie, no." He slid along the wall towards the dark corner by the window. "Don't look at me. Archie...." His chest rose and fell with each grasped breath. He turned away, leaned against the wall, and pressed his eyes into his forearm. "Go," he whispered. "Please. Go." Hornblower was unable to muster the fierce anger so readily available earlier that day.

Archie shook his head and inched closer. "I cannot. I cannot leave you." He put a steady hand on Hornblower's shoulder. Horatio lowered it to avoid the contact, but there was nowhere for him to run.

"No, Archie. Do not... not... look... at me."

"Horatio," Archie swallowed and drew nearer. "Come on. Come on," he said softly, tugging at his friend's shoulder. "Give in, Horatio." Kennedy paused, then said, "I was wrong. It isn't the captain that would be your sternest test." Archie moistened his lips. "It's me. Come on, old man. If I cannot give you a shoulder to cry on, who can?"

The tense muscles under Kennedy's grasp relaxed. For a moment, the only sound was the flesh of Archie's palm sliding over the worn wool jacket. With a gentle pull, Archie gripped his friend in his arms.

Hornblower's torso shuddered as he fought the wave of emotion.

"Let it go, Horatio," he whispered. "I know how much you loved her. There's no one to see. It's just me... just me."

Hornblower opened his eyes and looked at the portrait. He pinched them closed and pressed out the heavy moisture. His body shook uncontrollably.

"I've got you," said Archie gently, clutching him firmly.

Hornblower quaked and Archie held him tighter.

"I cannot... cannot ... live...." Hornblower managed to say.

"Shhh."

"I do not want to cry," said Horatio with shuddering, choking breaths.

"I know,... but sometimes our hearts take precedence over our heads," whispered Archie.

Horatio wept.

The atmosphere in the room was less empty, filled with an uncommon warmth, and slowly the turbulent feelings subsided as when waves calm after a violent storm, and the ease of a ship's pitch and roll settles into the familiar rhythm of easy sailing.

The shaking ceased, and Hornblower relaxed, allowing his head to rest against Archie's.

"I cannot believe she is gone," said Horatio. "She was so full of life,... so damned aggravating,... but I loved her. Why did I? Why did I fall in love with an American?"

Archie snorted softly. "She could be stiff-brained, couldn't she? Like someone else I know." Archie sighed and shifted his grip, but it was not lessened. He was a little surprised that as Hornblower's soul quieted; he did not move from his grasp. He would hold his friend till dawn if that was required.

Silence blanketed the room.

The ambiance experienced earlier thickened with comfort and, for lack of a better word, with home-coming. Horatio, though he had lost a father and a wife, relaxed in the bosom of the companionship that Archie's presence unexpectedly provided. That Kennedy's attendance would be of a calming nature rather than one that would agitate had not entered into Hornblower's thinking. Kennedy was the first bit of solid emotional ground he had trod upon in four months. The anxious striving was over even if Horatio did not wish it to be. He would rather be tied up in knots and without Pamela temporarily than to be free of the exertions altogether and her gone out of his life.

Horatio wondered why he didn't ease out of Kennedy's embrace. The constant pressure of Kennedy's arms around him did not exacerbate the situation as he thought it might have. He was too tired to reason it through. His eyelids were heavy and he knew his head lolled against Kennedy's every now and then.

"Archie. I'm tired." It was his voice, though it sounded far away.

The arms around him squeezed and then relaxed their grip. The two separated and Archie held the side of Hornblower's face. Kennedy sniffed, looked away, then embraced Hornblower anew.

"Damn you and your luck," said Kennedy. Horatio was alive. He survived stormy waters and freezing cold temperatures. "Don't ever do that to me again. Do you hear?" Archie's emotions overcame him.

"Archie?" asked Hornblower. Kennedy's words sharpened his attention.

Sniffing, Archie faced his friend.

"You think I don't know how you feel? I know, Horatio. I know. I lived with your death for four long months. I know what it is to lose someone you care about, someone that is as much a part of your life as father, or brother, or ... friend. Do you understand what I am saying?"

"But..."

"No buts, Horatio. Do you understand that I lost you?"

Hornblower could only nod, but then managed a soft spoken, "Yes. I... I'm sorry."

Archie's brief mocking laughter ended and he hugged Hornblower. "What would it take for you to embrace me first? A death wound?"

The two parted.

Gulping, Hornblower inclined his head negatively. Archie die? Along with Pamela and his father?

"Don't even think it, Archie!"

Hornblower found it difficult to believe that anyone would miss him. He was accustomed to a solitary life. Friends were few when he was growing up and after his mother died, he had closed into himself even more. That was what he was doing now, he reasoned, because of Pamela. But he had no desire for the company of others,... but ... Archie............

Papillon. Kennedy had been lost during the cutting out expedition. It was Hornblower's fault. He had struck him, not knowing if it was a death blow, for it could have been. Whatever the reason, Kennedy was left behind, and Hornblower blamed himself. He had forgotten. It was-- El Ferrol. Kennedy had lost the will to live. It was then that Hornblower had opened his heart to Archie, immediately so, for he feared he would lose him a second time. He needed Kennedy to survive, more than he knew, and more than he allowed himself to admit.

Kennedy was opening his heart to Horatio now. Hornblower recognized the emotion, but something deeper inside, to his very soul, stiffened against the comprehension.

Horatio grabbed onto Archie. It was his turn to squeeze tightly. He pressed his head to Archie's and whispered in his ear, "Don't even think it."

Archie's features relaxed into one of amazement. Hornblower did care. Somewhere in that knocked about, emotionally drained, jumbled up thinking, his friend was steadfast.

Archie closed his eyes and relished the feel of Hornblower's arms encircling him, the warmth of Hornblower alive, well in body and somewhat in spirit, happy in the knowledge that Horatio remained his friend.

The two parted, each grasping a forearm of the other.

"Are you all right?" asked Archie.

Hornblower nodded. "Yes," he said shyly. "I did not mean for you to.... sorry."

"I wanted to, Horatio. It is what friends are for."

Hornblower nodded nervously and blinked. "Sorry."

"Stop saying that," he ordered kindly but firmly.

"Yes, sir. I mean..." Sighing, Hornblower allowed a half smile. "You're a commander. Congratulations."

"How did...? Don't tell me. If and when I find out how long you have been in Portsmouth without letting me know I may get an irresistible urge to knock off that blockhead of yours, and from your history, that is the last thing you need." Kennedy paused, then added, "Besides, it's only temporary."

"Still..." added Hornblower.

Kennedy sighed and gripped Hornblower's neck. "Are you all right? Do I need to tuck you in?"

Hornblower looked down and shook his head. He lifted it and Kennedy saw his words were received as he meant them to be, in a joking manner.

Following Hornblower's solemn gaze, Kennedy said, "She is a beautiful woman."

Hornblower nodded and said wistfully, "I love her."

"No one wants you to stop loving her, Horatio," he said quietly. "You always will."

Horatio silently pondered Kennedy's words, then said, "I'm all right. You need not stay any longer."

Kennedy breathed a deep sigh. "Dine with me tomorrow?"

"If you wish it."

Archie eyed him dubiously. Of course he wished it. He would not have asked if he did not wish it. **You're a clod-headed mullet, my friend,** he thought, then said, "I will not speak of her, I promise... unless you do."

Kennedy was answered with a nod.

"You don't think I'm locked in, do you?"

 

 


After letting Kennedy out, Hornblower returned to his room. Once inside, he leaned against the door and whispered, "Forgive me, Archie. That which I have denied you, I take for myself."

Hornblower's gaze rested upon the framed portrait. Candle light enlivened the painted features giving the picture a three-dimensional appearance. He fell to his knees beside the bed and buried his face in the coverlet.

"Why?" came the muffled question, "Why does my heart deny your death when my mind is black with it? Why do I feel as I did last summer when we were parted? Why, in my heart, do I hear you call to me? Even now the tenacious impression of your love entwines with mine and I want to sail to America. But to what avail?"

He pushed away from the bed and knelt upright.

"God, why do you torment me?" he asked quietly, yet fiercely. "What have I done? What evil have I done that I should deserve this? First my mother, now my wife? Was it so much to ask to love and to be loved by one that loved me? What did I do? Why have You taken her from me? Is it that I might fulfill my duty to my country? That which I loved first and do still? I have not forsaken England. I only begged a little time for us. Have I asked too much? Am I to give more than a full measure that You would deny to me the woman I love AND our child? Why? Why?"

Ceasing to speak, Hornblower listened to the silence. There was no voice to answer.

"Very well," he said sharply. "I will do my duty. Let all who sail with me beware for I will not hold back. Indeed, I shall go forth like a firebrand. There will be no slack in regards to confronting the enemy." In this respect, there never had been, but he spoke it anyway, offering up a challenge, like a child that had been denied his way. "Give me the opportunity. Let the measure of my life be meted out, and swiftly so." Then, he added defiantly, "If You intend to keep me alive until I make admiral, You had best set a careful watch."

His eyes rested upon the framed picture. He closed it, gathered it to his breast, then climbed into bed. For a moment, he watched the play of light from the candle overhead. The ceiling he had stared at for nearly seven years above the bunk in Indefatigable was indelibly imprinted in his mind's eye, the wood grain and the monkey-like knot. The reminiscence triggered the stored memories and they opened. Instead of the angles of the wooden picture frame, he felt the soft rounded shoulders, heard contented sighs, absorbed her body's warmth into his.

With a sudden gasp, he threw his free arm over his eyes and shuddered through the loss.